“And then there was Brideshead of course”

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16 October 2020

Not knowing where to start with this blog I’m going to start at the beginning and ask myself, where did my love for history come from, where did it begin? I’d like to say my interest in History came from books or visiting museums but that would be… un-true. In reality, it came from the telly.

I grew up in a predominately female household and was brought up on a cocktail of Merchant & Ivory films and BBC period drama adaptations. When I was about 12 me and my Mum went through a phase of watching a different Catherine Cookson film every Sunday afternoon on VHS. And then there was Brideshead of course – which I became *quite* obsessed with. I wanted to be Charles, Sebastian and Julia all at once, imagining myself at these ludicrously lavish parties flirting with members of the English nobility.

But what struck me in all of these costume dramas wasn’t the costumes, or the sets, the overly dramatic and predictable scriptwriting, or the sometimes less than great, but still endearing, acting. What struck me was this running theme, of characters being inextricably linked to an environment, a place, which in turn formed part of their identity. Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights inevitably springs to mind, but so does little Maggie Tulliver seeking solace at her window-sill in The Mill on The Floss.

I’m fascinated by how our connections to environment and landscape contribute, explicitly or implicitly, to who we are. I can’t really say where this interest has come from, perhaps its because my ancestors were Romany travellers, a group of people who quite literally lived with an inseparable connection to the land – even If it wasn’t the same patch for very long.

I’m also interested, specifically, in the relationship women have to history and place. A Yorkshire girl myself I like to think back to all the women who’ve come before whose identities and outputs are tied to the Yorkshire landscape: Barbra Hepworth, The Brontes, Winifred Holtby.

Yorkshire seems to me, a place where there are signs of history all around you, they’re inescapable, and I’m not just talking in the architecture, I’m talking about the earth. I might be biased, but the Yorkshire countryside is a place like no other, its rich mythology is rooted in the landscape. As humans we may neglect them, we may – to its increasing detriment – mistreat them, but our natural surroundings have seen it all, they are wiser than we ever could be. These omnipresent, ever watching rocks and ancient trees have sat and watched history unfold as if it were a movie.

It’s as I’m thinking about the Yorkshire landscape; the Humber, the ‘wildly windy moors’, our craggy coastline, that I come back to thinking about beginnings, about my place in it all and how growing up in this part of the country has constituted who I am. And now, after writing all this, I’m reminded of the vastness of it all – of history and of space, and I think I’m a little bit more confused than I was when I began to write, but perhaps that’s okay. I can think on it a little longer – I can go and make a little more history in Yorkshire whilst I’m at it.